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Hill v. Ford

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

March 16, 2017

TOMMIE L. HILL, JR. Petitioner,
v.
TAMMY FORD, Respondent.

          ORDER DIRECTING CLERK TO MODIFY RESPONDENT, DENYING § 2254 PETITION, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          J. DANIEL BREEN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner, Tommie L. Hill, Jr., pleaded guilty to evading arrest and reckless endangerment and was tried and convicted of two counts of aggravated assault by a jury in the Madison County Circuit Court in Jackson, Tennessee. Proceeding pro se, Hill seeks federal habeas corpus relief challenging his aggravated assault convictions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons discussed below, the § 2254 petition is DENIED.[1]

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         The statutory authority for federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”).

         1. Merits Review

         Under the AEDPA, habeas relief is available only if the prisoner is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A § 2254 claim challenging the petitioner's custody or sentence on state-law grounds thus fails to state a federal habeas claim. Moreland v. Bradshaw, 699 F.3d 908, 926 (6th Cir. 2012) (writ of habeas corpus may not issue “on the basis of a perceived error of state law”) (citing Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 41 (1984)).

         The availability of federal habeas relief is further restricted where the petitioner's claim was “adjudicated on the merits” in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). In that circumstance, federal habeas relief “may not be granted” unless:

the earlier state court's decision “was contrary to” federal law then clearly established in the holdings of [the Supreme] Court, [28 U.S.C.] § 2254(d)(1); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); or . . . “involved an unreasonable application of” such law, § 2254(d)(1); or . . . “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the record before the state court, § 2254(d)(2).

Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (2011).

         A state court's decision is “contrary” to federal law when it “arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached” by the Supreme Court on a question of law or “decides a case differently than” the Supreme Court has “on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-13. An “unreasonable application” of federal law occurs when the state court “identifies the correct governing legal principle from” the Supreme Court's decisions “but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id. at 413.

         There is little case law addressing the “unreasonable determination of the facts” standard of § 2254(d)(2). The Supreme Court has explained, however, that a state court's factual determination is not “unreasonable” merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion. See Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010). Although the Sixth Circuit has described the standard as “demanding but not insatiable, ” it construes the standard in tandem with § 2254(e)(1) to require a presumption that the state court's factual determination is correct in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Ayers v. Hudson, 623 F.3d 301, 308 (6th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         2. Exhaustion and Procedural Default

         Before a federal court will review the merits of a claim brought under § 2254, the petitioner must have “exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). The exhaustion provision is “designed to give the state courts a full and fair opportunity to resolve federal constitutional claims before those claims are presented to the federal courts.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999).

         In light of this purpose, the Supreme Court has interpreted the exhaustion provision as requiring not mere “technical” exhaustion, Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 732 (1991), but “proper[]” exhaustion. Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 848. A claim is technically exhausted when state remedies are no longer available to the petitioner. Coleman, 501 U.S. at 732 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)). Technical exhaustion therefore encompasses not only situations where the petitioner fully presented his claim to the state courts, but also instances where the prisoner did not present his claim to the state courts at all or failed to present it to the highest available court, and the time for doing so has expired. Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 848; Wood v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 92-93 (2006). If federal habeas courts were generally allowed to review such claims, the exhaustion provision's purpose of giving the state courts the first opportunity to resolve federal constitutional issues would be “utterly defeated.” Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 453 (2000). “To avoid this result, and thus protect the integrity of the federal exhaustion rule, ” a claim must be “properly” exhausted, meaning it must be “fairly presented” through “one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 845, 848.

         The exhaustion requirement works in tandem with the procedural-default rule, which generally bars federal habeas review of claims that were procedurally defaulted in the state courts. Id. at 848. Broadly speaking, procedural default happens in two ways. A petitioner procedurally defaults his claim where he fails to properly exhaust available remedies (that is, fails to “fairly present” the claim through “one complete round” of the state's appellate review process), and he can no longer exhaust because a state procedural rule or set of rules has closed-off any “remaining state court avenue” for review of the claim on the merits. Harris v. Booker, 251 F. App'x 319, 322 (6th Cir. 2007). See also Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 846, 848. Procedural default also occurs where the state court “actually . . . relie[s] on [a state] procedural bar as an independent basis for its disposition of the case.” Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 327 (1985). To cause a procedural default, the state court's ruling must “rest[] on a state law ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment.” Coleman, 501 U.S. at 729.

         It is only when the petitioner shows “cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, ” or demonstrates that “the court's failure to consider the claim[] will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice, ” that a federal court will review the merits of a claim that was procedurally defaulted. Coleman, 501 U.S. at 748-50 (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496 (1986)). A fundamental miscarriage of justice is met “where a prisoner asserts a claim of actual innocence based upon new reliable evidence.” Bechtol v. Prelesnik, 568 F. App'x 441, 448 (6th Cir. 2014).

         BACKGROUND

         1. Hill's Criminal Proceedings and Direct Appeal

         In its opinion affirming the denial of post-conviction relief, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) summarized the criminal proceedings and direct appeal in Hill's case:

[T]he petitioner was indicted by the Madison County Grand Jury for reckless endangerment, evading arrest, and two counts of aggravated assault based on his having fled in a vehicle from the police, reaching speeds of 85 to 100 miles per hour on a Jackson city street, and having then driven his vehicle toward two police officers, one of whom apparently shot the petitioner to avoid being struck by the vehicle. A hospital security camera apparently captured the petitioner's high-speed flight down a city street, but not the actions that formed the basis for the aggravated assault counts of the indictment. The petitioner subsequently pled guilty to the evading arrest and reckless endangerment counts and was tried and convicted by a jury of the aggravated assault counts. He was represented by counsel at his arraignment but elected to proceed pro se at trial, with the trial court assigning his original trial counsel to act as his elbow counsel at trial and sentencing. He filed his direct appeal of the convictions pro se, and on May 25, 2011, this court entered an order dismissing the appeal based on the petitioner's failure to file an appellate brief in the case.

Hill v. State, No. W2012-01472-CCA-R3PC, 2013 WL 1681212, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 17, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 10, 2013).

         2. Post-Trial Proceedings

         The inmate filed a post-conviction petition seeking relief from his convictions, which was denied after an evidentiary hearing. (ECF No. 9-1.) The TCCA affirmed the lower court's decision and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. See Hill, 2013 WL 1681212, at *1.

         3. Hill's § 2254 Petition Petitioner raises five grounds for habeas relief:

. Claim 1: He received ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
. Claim 2: The State failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland,373 ...

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